Recently in Hilary's Weblog Category

Hands on keyboard Who inhabits the cybervillage? Mostly it seems younger people, and, in the more technological parts of that so-called village, men. But there are a few self-proclaimed women 'geeks' of a certain age out there too; and some of them are claiming a cyber-space for their own ideas. I don't profess to be a geek; but maybe I match the profile in other ways.

It's interesting that, as we mark the eightieth anniversary in Britain of full female emancipation via the Equal Franchise Act (2 July 1928), the issue of 'older female geeks' seems to be coming to the fore.

In July 1928 women in the U.K. were awarded the vote on the same basis as men. And in the Summer of 2008 it looks like they are to be recognised as enfranchised also as legitimate inhabitants of the blogosphere.

Older female geeks who blog
As Natalie d'Arbeloff of Blaugustine says in her Guardian article of 13 June '08, there aren't many 'older female geeks' as yet, but this species does exist as a measurably sized group. She lists amongst their number Penelope Farmer of Rockpool in the Kitchen, Fran of Sacred Ordinary, Marja-Leena Rathje, Elizabeth Adams of The Cassandra Pages, Tamarika of Mining Nuggets and Rain of Rainy Day Thoughts.

Self-evidently sterling women, all of them; but am I correct in thinking that not one of these writer is actually British-born and still living in the UK? North America features highly in this list; though not Britain. I, being so domiciled, am pondering this....

Geeks or bloggers?
And are all bloggers geeks, I wonder? For me, the interest lies in the writing, in getting one's head around particular or puzzling 'facts', experiences and perceptions, or perhaps placing an engaging (I hope) photograph in a pleasing or interesting way. The technicals are of significance only insofar as I have to do them to achieve what I want - just like driving my car.

The skill in designing my blog has been entirely Nick Prior's, not mine. My role as we develop the website has been merely to explain or think up what features I have a feeling would help, and Nick then interprets them, to deliver something real.

Claiming a blogosphere space
But being a geek (though I'm not even sure Nick's one of those, he's skilled and knowledgeable, not just an excellent technician) isn't what matters. It's surely the ideas which count?

Today I read another Guardian piece, by Cath Elliott, in which she discusses the use older women make of their blogs to look at experiences and perceptions which might otherwise remain unremarked.

Now that I find really fascinating. And I'd like to think in part it's what I do right here.

Read more articles about Hilary's Weblog.

08.05.11  computer keyboard 156x112  001a.jpg When did the World Wide Web emerge for most people? Around the Millennium? Like most things technical, it took off first amongst young men who enjoy gadgets.... who happen also in general to be less concerned with what was going on previously. So does History now begin in 2000? Will western culture and destiny henceforth be shaped by what the second generation web tells us?

A hunch today saw me typing the words 'cyber.history' into the Google search engine. I suppose I was not surprised that there are almost 5000 entries listed for that exact phrase.

Developing the idea
One of the most interesting entries I looked at was John Stevenson's cyber history collection and timeline, in which he cites commentary going back to 1945 (!) on what has become the world wide web. This fascinating list includes, of course, the ground-breaking insights of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, including his 1992 CERN paper on World-Wide Web: The Information Universe.

If you're a historian or a social scientist (as I am) looking at the development of science and technology, this is a rich seam ; and one indeed in which, as second generation blogging develops, many of us play our own tiny micro-parts.

Generational and other divides?
Despite the rise of the silver surfer, non-technically-directed people with memories at least as long as mine still form a very small element within the www community.

For most young people the www is the first port of call when information and ideas are sought; and most easily accessible content on the www is probably posted by (relatively) young people. When put alongside the reality that the www became popularly available only in about 2000, it begins to look inevitable that the Millennium just past is where History starts.

An open network
As Tim Berners-Lee, who has steadfastly insisted the www should be an open network, said in 2006:

'We're not going to be trying to make a web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do.....The really important thing about the web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space.'

Lee-Berner's remark was made in response to serious concerns that the internet might become an unpleasant place of anonymous rumour and malicious intent. And he is right to be so worried, before it really is too late.

Losing the past
I would add to that my own concern that the www has permitted us to forget how far western societies have come in the past few decades, let alone the past century. Right now, life truly is better for most of us in the developed democracies than it has ever been. But will this good fortune last? And can it be shared?

Losing our pre-Millennium reference points would also result in the loss, at a time when our culture is already very immediate, of our sense of what has worked to make the world better, and what perhaps has not. This loss would make it more difficult to sustain what's good and to improve what's not good or what looks worrying.

Learning for the future
Things reshape and evolve all the time. It's now 40 years since the last time 'history changed', in that surreal summer of 1968. For some who witnessed it, what the lessons are remains a matter of debate.

I still hope the www will help more people of every sort of experience and background share what they know and have observed. We have only to look at the work of political scientists and historians such as Peter Laslett to realise what a better understanding, say, of pre-industrial society might have done for many current social concerns.

Contemporary sharing might encourage us all to reflect just sometimes on the historical medium and longer term, and on how we can learn from it to sustain what we optimistically call 'progress'.


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Hilary's Weblog
Communicating
Pre-History / Herstory (1950-)

Party multi-coloured windmill 6101 (98x95).jpg Well, happy birthday to us all!
Today is two years to the day from when I posted my first 'real' blog - a day my website designer Nick Prior and I had worked towards for several months. And a whole twenty four months later, we're still going fine, with ever-growing numbers of visitors and well more than three hundred pieces, about 'all sorts', up and on-line.

It's been a great trip so far. It's a real challenge - to which you can say, better than I, whether I've risen - to write clearly and, hopefully, in an interesting way, about the things I see around me and become involved in. But whatever, I really enjoy trying....

The stats
When we started I was delighted if just a tiny handful of kind friends visited the site in any one day. Now hundreds (still I'm sure kind friends, but often at a heck of a distance - my website statistics tell me there have been visitors from 130 countries) pop in and out over the twenty four hours.

And now too the website's Google rating is (fingers crossed) a steady five, a measure I could only dream about a year ago. Nick Prior told me it would take about this long, if I worked hard to keep things going; and, as usual, he was right.

The content
But much more importantly than Google ratings, I think I'm beginning to learn 'what works'. I have always wanted this website to be a pleasant place to visit, somewhere of course where you can read a particular take, as well expressed as I can make it, on issues which engage me; but also somewhere which offers enjoyable and interesting photographs and ideas.

In short, I wanted to create a sort-of on-line 'magazine' for people who share some of my interests... as I really appreciate when they (you) share ideas back with me via the Comments box or in emails.

Thank you!
So, thank you Nick for deciding to take time (then and still now) to get me up and running, and for suspending belief enough to think maybe, just maybe, I'd do something with this website for more than just a few weeks.

And thank you, Dear Reader, for bearing with me too. I really hope you're enjoying what you see.


Read more articles on Hilary's Weblog.

Tutorial (small) 90x120.jpg This website seems to be used as a learning resource, as well as by a more general readership. Teachers and students refer to it for a range of reasons; and amongst these is the opportunity for people whose first language is not English to read short articles linked to other websites on the same topics. So, how do / could you use this site as an educational resource?

Your views and advice, as teachers and as students or general readers, about how this 'learning resource' facility might be extended, would be most welcome. As myself a qualified teacher who worked in education for many years, I am always enthusiastic about the development of new learning materials and ways of teaching. If only the internet had been available when education was my day job.....

I look forward to your ideas and contributions on this topic.

Thank you!

Telegrah wires (small).jpgE-technology may well be becoming more accessible, but it still has its problems if you're just the customer. These last few weeks have brought this message home for one aspiring e-user at least.

I'd be the very first to admit I'm totally below the horizon when it comes to things e-technical, but I do seem to know a bit about how to deal with emails, blogs and such like. A-level Physics was a very long time ago - no computers then, anyway - and my relationship with my e-suppliers is the same (in my mind) as that with my newspaper shop, car mechanic or whatever. They deliver the goods and I use them.

So in a vague sort of way I expect that my IT suppliers will look after the technicals, the supply chain and so forth, and I will give them money to deliver a service, before we reach the part of the process which I'm responsible for.

Unwelcome surprises
It was a surprise therefore when all things e-technical went quite seriously awry in this office a few weeks ago. My email went on strike and my data-save service stopped working, all at about the same time, so I couldn't access any back-ups, exactly when I also couldn't read or send any email. (And I couldn't just restart on Outlook 2003, before you ask, because it's sold out everywhere. Why? is a good question...)

It turns out that these things were both related and not related. It was bad timing, but also bad luck. My only good fortune was that the wonderful Nick Prior (and a few very e-technically-minded house guests over the festive season - thank you, Nick and all!) managed to work out what the problems were:

The problems diagnosed
Firstly, although Microsoft had updated my Office system rigorously, I turned out still to have an 'old' copy of Microsoft Outlook 2000. How was I to know, having used the system for some years, that as soon as a large number of attachments reached me just before Christmas, this file would hit 2 gigabytes and flatly refuse to respond at all?

There were no 'warnings', nothing to let me know things were about to go haywire, it just all STOPPED...... and took until early January to sort out.

Secondly, the very act of Microsoft's updating my system (they offered, I didn't ask them to) was also the cause of my BT DigitalVault going on strike, even before I'd managed to get it started. BT ran a Net service before this, and they - again not I - insisted on my updating and starting a new system. When I rang to ask why DigitalVault was failing to register my data I was met with a weary 'You haven't just updated to '7, have you Madam? Could you downgrade again?'

Well, no chance of that, so I still have a non-functioning 'service' whilst I await the basic courtesy of BT and Microsoft talking to each other on behalf of their (paying) customers.

Communication is the key
As on so many other occasions, more attention by the suppliers to communication might have resolved things even before I knew about them.

If Microsoft had enabled a notice to warn me about the 2 gigs limit, I would have ensured it wasn't reached - a much better solution that the e-surgery, random and necessarily brutal, which was eventually required to get the system going once more.

And if BT and Microsoft had talked to each other before the launch of DigitalVault (or, come to that, if BT had warned me not to permit the Microsoft upgrade, which happened just after I'd signed up for the data protection) I would not now be paying for a function which doesn't work.

Technical challenges or customers?
Like many other not-particularly-technically-engaged people I expect to be able to use my computer to do simply what it says on the can: in my case, essentially www searches, emails, documents, spreadsheets and weblogs. Not that difficult really.

There are many like me, I suspect ,who have a feeling that the challenges of advancing e-technology are more interesting to most IT people than are their humble customers.

So it's not surprising, is it, that not everyone wants to embrace the brave new e-world?

Laptop (small).jpgThere are now two hundred 'article' postings on this website. Over the past year the style has changed and so has the emphasis. Are we, as Tim Berners-Lee has said, at the beginning of the 'second generation' of web-logging - perhaps a phase in which not only the technicals but also the social networks will change fundamentally? This journey takes us from CERN all the way to Six Apart.

It's always difficult to recall what things looked like when one's been involved in them for a while; and for me, this weblog is no exception to the rule. There are some two hundred posted blogs on this website now, and the terrain has changed.

Certainly, we can all see that the 'product' is now sometimes crisper and often more colourful (in the literal sense..) than the original, but that's different from remembering what it felt like when I embarked on this adventure.

Perhaps on reflection what intuitively attracted me to web-logging is the idea of universal space which, as long as we remember the 'rules' of sensible evidence and behaviour, we can all share and use together.

Anyway, I'm glad that I decided to go ahead with my weblog / journal.

Thinking things through
I've mentioned before how I feel that writing about things in this quite abbreviated (for me) way is helpful in getting my thoughts together, and how I enjoy taking the photographs and finding appropriate books to illustrate and animate my text. This, to my mind, is much more interesting than just a quick blast at something and a half-finished comment without back-up.

And now, fifteen years after Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web (WWW), I am reading that others too are getting into web-logging in a more formal way. It seems that a lot of web-writers (if that's what we are) are beginning to acknowledge that there's something to be said, as Berners-Lee also emphasises, for using weblogs to make the 'argument' as well as just the odd comment.

More structured debate
Good. I always hoped that weblogs like mine could become the focus of debate amongst people who have thoughtful things to say. I don't mind at all if someone disagrees with what I say, as long as they can back up their argument with reasons, and can also recognise why I / others have adopted whatever position is in dispute. That's how we all learn.

It would be a disaster if the WWW became, as its inventor and many others fear, a place simply of scurrilous half-truths or worse - though I recognise of course that sometimes news and views have to emerge in roundabout ways, and the WWW is ideal for this strategy where it's needed.

But in the end, something which can't be substantiated is often of less value than something that can. That's why in academia we have peer-review, referees and gatekeepers, to ensure the quality of published work. (Yes, I know that process sometimes backfires, but reasoned and / or evidence-based debate is fundamentally still a good, positive way to proceed.)

Everyone can have a say
So now we have Wikipedia ('What I Know Is...'), first launched in the original English version on 15 January 2001, and other recent e-inventions which allow everyone a say - on the condition that they don't mind being challenged or put right if someone else thinks that should happen. The pros and cons of how successful Wikipedia can be remain to be seen, but the admirable concept behind the idea is now established.

This is knowledge democracy in action, open to all. In a way it's the dialectic of learning by discussing - a method previously available to those of us who went on to higher education, but less so to everyone else. Now virtually everyone who wants to can find out about things and join in the discussion. How much better is that?

Business, commercial and community, too
Nor ultimately does it matter that interactive blogging is becoming a business and commercial activity, as well as a voluntary one; either way, people are connecting. The massive market leaders, companies like YouTube, MySpace and Flickr, have their part to play in the engagement process, as do the newly e-friendly business interests which now offer interactive websites - BT amongst them.

Of course there are issues around the strategies used for 'fooling' the search engines, so that certain names and topics rise to the top of the list; but that probably applies as much, say, to film and book sales as to the web itself. (My own website designer, Nick Prior, offers a valuable insight into how search engine interest can be attracted legitimately.)

And now we have an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) report telling us that smaller community groups should do the same. I think they're right. The more ideas are shared, the better. Being on the WWW doesn't, after all, preclude also being on the radar of the local newspaper or even just the local gossip.

But still there are people, such those discussed in Mike Ion's blog, who doubt the web has relevance to the lives of others 'in the community'.

'Good' weblogs vs 'bad' ones
The race is now on between those who could damage the good intent of Tim Berners-Lee, who gave us all the WWW for free because he believed it should be available to everyone, and the rest of us, who admire this generosity and vision.

Very few can achieve a great impact in going for a positive future for the WWW, but it's nonetheless an ambition for many of us in our own small, often minutely small, ways to do what we can. The more people 'connect' in this activity, the better, as far as I can see. And don't just ask me. Look at the way innovations like Mena Trott's Six Apart (which 'owns' the Moveable Type facility which I'm using here) are developing....

Agree only this...
This is just the beginning of what could be a very long debate. Being 'accessible' may not mean being 'free at the point of delivery'; that could even become impossible if there is to be any proper regulation of quality - without which access is in any case of little value. Nor does a new emphasis on social connection eclipse the technical aspects of the semantic web and e-intelligence. These are critically important matters for future consideration.

For now the only thing we have to agree to agree about as a general principle is, as Berners-Lee says, that "We're not going to be trying to make a web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do.....The really important thing about the web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space."

1 today (website) (small) 06.10.11.jpg This website went live exactly one year ago. Its owner has learnt a lot about 'web-based journals' and 'blogging' in the 365 days since then.

11 Octcber last year was a scary day for me. It was the day I finally took the plunge and 'went live' with postings for my pre-prepared website.

Technical 'challenges'
Over the last twelve months I have learnt to write in several different styles and a new 'voice' (generally less academic and more direct), I have touched on many topics which take my interest, I have learnt to manipulate Moveable Type and to insert weblinks and photographs (you too can do it, if you try...), and I have had many and long discussions with my admirably ever-patient web designer, Nick Prior, over matters large and small (most of which started by my asking, 'How do you ....?').

I like to think Nick has been on a (gentler) learning curve too - mostly about how little some of his clients (specifically, me) know of things web-based. Perhaps it has offered him a view of the process through the eyes of an enthusiastic, enquiring and reasonably articulate weblogger who would like to make as much contact as possible with her readers, but knows nothing about the technical side of things. In my imagination I am not constrained by the technically conventional, because it's all new to me!

Friends and ideas old and new
I have 'met' many new friends over the internet, and have talked about my weblog postings with many 'old' friends over coffee. This in itself has offered me a lot.

I have also discovered something of what I think about issues and areas of experience which I did not expect to pop up from my mind, but which have somehow become little contributions to this website. It's illuminating to me as an individual to see where my thoughts take me, and perhaps it's sometimes also engaging for others. A weblog is far less constraining than an academic paper or a one-off article, more like a conversation between the different parts of my experience. I personally would miss my weblog now, if I didn't have it.

Categorising thoughts
As Nick Prior said recently, the opportunity to map out one's thoughts in such a categorised way (computers are very unforgiving, though fortunately my web designer isn't) is both interesting to the writer and difficult to achieve. I hope as the reader that you sense more of the former ('interesting') than the latter ('difficult').

Nonetheless, categorising my ideas has proved to be one of the most tricky tasks. How does one bring together connected individual postings as 'topics' without huge numbers of categories and sub-categories to guide the reader? My aim is to give this weblog some coherence and integrity, so we have general headings to provide an indication of where one might find the articles of most interest; but even that seems to leave things a bit too wide and woolly.

I plan therefore to introduce a category of postings entitled Resource List (or similar), where I will offer a brief guide to what's been posted so far on particular recurring themes, with a note on why I believe the theme is of interest. It has been fascinating to see which topics have been most selected and pursued by my readers!

Becoming business-like
I am now trying to make the whole arrangement a bit more business-like; just in the past day or so I have signed up with Amazon and Google for 'appropriate' referrals through my website, and we shall all be watching to ensure that's what we get. If it works, this should help to defray the costs of running the site and it may even open our minds to (new?) publications and other items of interest about which some of us, on occasion including me, were previously unaware. We shall see.

Sharing ideas
But most importantly, ithis website has given me the opportunity to share thoughts and observations far more widely than before, with all the challenges and benefits which derive from this. There are now almost two hundred postings on the site, which has had hits from seventy seven countries across every continent. As Nick Prior predicted, the rate of increase in the past three months has been striking - he told me that without external promotion it would take eight or nine months to get going - and now we have some one hundred unique visits a day (often many more page views) and rising.

For me this is encouraging indeed; obviously people like to visit my site; sometimes they even post comments as well. And that's just great.

What next?
So what should I be concentrating on for the next year? Is the coverage of topics a good balance? Do you like the photos? Are the weblinks useful? Your comments and ideas are, as ever, really welcome.

Thank you for visiting, and please come again!

Camera & stand 06.7.30 002.jpg This weblog has just become a photo blog. In the past week or so several of the postings have gained an extra full-colour visual dimension. It may take a while yet, but hopefully in due course your aspirant photoblogger will get around to visuals for most of these postings.

There has been something of a lull in up-front activity on this site for the past few days. Never fear, however, there is no lack of action behind the scenes.

Photographer photo'd (H) 06.7.12.jpg Truth is, I've been learning how to put photos on my website; and my excellent and long-suffering web designer, Nick Prior, has been doing his best to teach me by 'distance learning' (i.e. down a phone line..... ).

You, The Reader, and Nick can be the judges, but I think I've got the hang of it now - it's like weblinks only fancier, because you usually have to change the size of the photo too (otherwise anyone without good broadband would have to wait ages for the download).

My first photoblog efforts
So now we have quite a few articles / postings with their very own pictures. Please take a look at my photographic efforts to date (all my own shots). Themes covered in this first week include: Sefton Park birds, Sefton Park development plans, Wavertree Botanic Gardens, Big Science and the new localism, Minako and Ian's lovely 'international' wedding, and life with a violin and its owner.

There will, I hope, be more before too long. Your comments are welcome - and please watch this space....

The nature of 'blogging' has been quite throughly explored of late; but here is the humble observation of a person who is actually trying to do it, and to find a new way of sharing ideas into the bargain.

Having now completed 150 entries over a period of six month on this Weblog, I hope I'm beginning to get the hang of it.

I read recently that a new Blog is created somewhere every second of every day, but that half of them fold within three months. Frankly, I'm not surprised. I expect that for quite a lot of people it's bit like writing a Diary, and after a while Life takes over....

More a Journal than a Diary
For me, however, this exercise has become defined in my head as 'journalistic', in the sense of examining the events and ideas of the moment - or perhaps sometimes those which are distinctly against the grain of that moment?

And in that too I'm not alone. Both The Economist and The Guardian, for instance, are currently engaged in what might be called meta-analysis of the 'meaning' of contemporary journalism; and both have concluded that a lot of it will in future involve direct engagement with the reader.

What is a blog?
Indeed, The Economist's Survey of new media, published this week, addresses the issues very clearly: A blog, argues Dave Winer who pioneered weblog software, is 'the unedited voice of a single person', preferably amateur and, in The Economist's words, having 'a raw, unpolished authenticity and individuality'. This, it seems to be agreed, is what distinguishes blogs from formal newspapers; just as blogs must in the view of readers be accessible and personal in a way that organisational productions often cannot be.

Well, obviously, I couldn't possibly comment in this particular context; but I do feel that approaching my Blog Journal over quite a time now has changed my understanding of what it's all about. To start with I was quite nervous of sharing these ideas, and then I began to feel more confident that readers would understand the spirit in which they are offered - as indeed has always been the case.

More direct and better linked?
And I suspect that I now write more directly than I did to begin with. It's quite a challenge to move away from 'academic speak' whilst still trying to stick to the established rules of evidenced-based commentary. But what I've lost in third party style has perhaps been compensated for by my better grasp now of how to link / reference my pieces to other writers' work, directly through the internet. It's a challenge always to find the right links to illustrate a given point, but I'm coming to think that even partial connection is better than none.

What next?
So what next? Well, discussions with Nick Prior, who designs this website for me, have taken me to thinking we need photographs! This will not make the weblog a newspaper, but it may help to add interest and show you more about what's what, especially when I write about events and places I know. My first assignment of this photographic sort was therefore today, in Sefton Park.

And maybe I shall try some more ideas as well... an educational or musical 'column', or something special about Liverpool, perhaps? Who knows? Or perhaps by Entry No. 200 we shall all know?

Thank you as ever for joining with us in this adventure.

This is the beginning of the working year - and the one hundredth entry which Hilary has written on her weblog. It's been an exciting adventure for this weblogger so far; and hopefully there are more topics to come....

It somehow feels right that this is the first working day of the new year - and also the one hundredth item I've written for my weblog. After a very hesitant start I actually got going in October, and here I am, still enjoying it all enormously.

And slowly the 'rules' I want to work to are becoming clearer: I try to keep things 'even' and I certainly don't want to be personal about individuals; I tend to steer clear of specifically party politics unless I can find no other way to say something (Yes, I am a seasoned honorary officer of the Liverpool Labour Party, just to be sure to declare my interest here); and I seek to share information and views across a wide range of topics, because I feel very strongly that we should all try to connect up ideas and views where we can.

Learning from your comments
I'm very grateful to all those who have taken the time and trouble to respond to various things I've written. It's interesting that the topic which has attracted both the most hits (about 5% of them all) and the most comments is in fact Liverpool's Sefton Park and the proposals for restoring it to its former glory.

Sefton Park could seem a strange topic for hot debate, but actually that's just what we're having about the Park right now - there are people out there who feel very strongly about the whole thing, one way and the other. So perhaps one element of a weblog which attracts active debate is the possibility on a ',a type="amzn">human scale ' of influencing outcomes?

Well-visited topics
But there are also a lot more issues which attract interest, to judge from hits on this website - amongst them, elected mayors (or not), Liverpool's Hope Street, regionalism and Tesco! And that's before we get to women's groups, orchestras, science and medicine, eco-issues and the surprisingly well-visited entries on allotments and art and health.

The weblog continues to take shape
I am of course very aware that my long-suffering website designer, the estimable Nick Prior, has set me quite a few tasks for the next few months to take this weblog forward. There will be re-designs to whatever extent, and I am going to have to make some hard-headed decisions about Categories and the like.... and that's where the feedback I get from you, our readers, comes in so useful. Please keep it coming!

And for 2006...?
Who knows what will crop up next by way of hot debate? We all have our pressing interests and concerns, and we all have lots to do, so the scope is enormous. But for me I guess and hope there will be some very interesting experiences in 2006. All the things I currently do are fascinating and there's more for me to add in the months to come - particularly my new role as a Member of the Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Science Advisory Council, about which I shall start to learn more very soon.

So I hope it will be a very good year for us all; and that I shall continue to be able to share some of my ideas with you, and you will do the same for me.

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